THE biggest threat to the future of the Oxfordshire economy is transport.
That is the key finding of a major new report which polled more than 120 county firms to gauge their views on how travel and transport affects their business and staff.
The results of the Oxfordshire Business Barometer show 76 per cent of company owners and directors believe traffic congestion and the quality of transport links are “adversely affecting”
More than 30 per cent say this is costing them dearly in the form of extra fuel costs and mileage claims,while some ay the prospect of being stuck in jams on key routes such as the A34 and A40 every day is making it harder to recruit staff.
But lack of investment in alternatives such as safer cycling schemes is encouraging 72 per cent of people to continue to commute to work by car.
The report has prompted MPs and council leaders to redouble their efforts to work out a solution, particularly to the situation on the county’s congested roads.
Oxford West & Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood recently brought transport minister Stephen Hammond to the county and revealed he became stuck in a traffic jam on the A34.
As a result, he has pledged that the road will become one of his “route-based strategies” which aim to look at entire roads, rather than individual projects such as improving junctions.
Ms Blackwood said: “If we are able to achieve anything like our economic potential, we need to overcome the infrastructure barriers that not only inhibit start-ups but also growth of existing local businesses.”
Speaking about the impact on business of roads such as the A34, she added: “Do you leave an hour earlier than you need to meet a client and and lose productivity or do you leave on time and risk being late for the client and losing their business?
“Few businesses have the kind of margins to sustain that kind of uncertainty.
“What I want to see most of all is the quick production of a plan to resolve the capacity problem of the A34 so we can start seeing improvements as soon as possible.”
John Cardy, co-founder of Garden Games, said he had considered moving his business from a farm in Garford, near Abingdon, to Witney but traffic and transport fears had made him reconsider. He added: “Each time we looked at a potential move, we were forced to consider the impact it would have on our staff.
“Most of our employees were not prepared to commute using the A40 which has a terrible reputation for accidents and congestion.”
Other factors highlighted in the report included employees frequently being late for work and reduced productivity. And only nine per cent of bosses currently cycle to work, although 32 per cent say they would swap their cars for bikes if facilities improved.
Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth said: “This confirms transport is a major issue for local businesses and is holding back growth.
“We hear the concerns, and hope to find ways to work together to find creative solutions to transport pressures in the context of very limited public funding.”